Day 100: Zig-a-zig-ahhhh

Scene: 8:00 am, Tuesday morning, headquarters of duck-rabbit central AKA my living room.

Elder: [singing] I’ll TELL you what I want, what I really really want

D-R: [long ears pricking up] WHAT did you just say????

Elder: I said, [singing] I’ll TELL you what I want, what I really really want

D-R: [tremendously excited] where did you hear that????

Elder: [vaguely, listlessly] oh, it’s just some song.

D-R: [indignant] It is not just “some song.” It’s by the Spice Girls! Hang on, I’m going to play it for you.

[some minutes later]

Younger: [sitting at a tiny child-sized Ikea table over which she observes her mother with consternation] that is very strange dancing.

D-R: [dancing with wild abandon to Wannabe by the Spice Girls, shrugs while simultaneously singing] I wanna really, really, really wanna zigazig ahhhh

Younger: do you feel embarrassed?

D-R: [gleefully] no!

Younger: Tell me when you feel embarrassed.

D-R: ha ha! I don’t get embarrassed when I’m dancing.


Why, do you think I should feel embarrassed? [1]

Younger: Yes. [2]


Later that morning I go to see Dr. F. At a certain point during the session, she makes an observation, the accuracy of which I cannot deny: when I come to therapy, she points out, if I am wearing these particular ankle boots, which have a side zip, usually the zip is either partially or completely undone on at least one boot.

What do you think that says about you? she asks.

I gaze at Dr F., who, as usual, is immaculately turned out, her own knee-length boots fully fastened.

I consider the question.

“Ummm, it says that I don’t think it matters in this space if I look a bit disheveled? It says that I’m in a hurry often when I’m trying to get here?”

She goes on to ask me where the line is. Have I brushed my teeth?


Have I brushed my hair?


“I never brush my hair,” I explain. [3]

(If you’ve seen my kids you’ll see that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in this respect.)

“Is your fly zipped?” she asks me innocently.

“Oh, come on!” I protested. “Yes, my fly is zipped. I am not that bad.”

I examine my right boot. The open zipper exposes a white ankle sock, the kind of sock that’s meant for wearing with running shoes.

The image makes me think—perhaps because the cat we had when I was growing up, Sally, had a white belly—of the way that a cat, when it knows you very well, will roll over on its back and show its soft belly in a display of vulnerability. And just as a cat doesn’t usually actually want you to touch its belly, I feel a bit defensive that Dr. F has pointed out my undone boot, like she’s just poked my white-socked inner ankle.

I do think, upon reflection, though, that the roll-on-back-exposing-belly maneuver is a duck-rabbit signature move. I mean … this blog, ALL ONE HUNDRED DAYS of it: one giant belly exposure, right?

Although I do, generally, zip up my boots when teaching or giving a talk, I am quite often tempted to use, figuratively speaking, mind, the belly-exposure maneuver in professional settings. For example, when someone asks me a hard question in a Q&A following a talk, my natural instinct (which I try strongly to resist, I should add, so as not to appear completely pathetic), is immediately to concede the questioner’s point.

Let me give you a hypothetical example.

This week I am in another city, an East coast city, where tomorrow I will be giving a talk at a prestigious institution and fielding questions about an article I wrote that has been circulated to the department ahead of my visit.

Yesterday I had lunch with a colleague at my institution who happens to have been a graduate student at the institution I am visiting this week, and who has witnessed many, many visiting scholars give talks in this particular series.

“Yeah, so it’s kind of like The Birds,” he mused, of the Q&A at these talks. “You know, first the small birds come in and just peck peck peck, and then the bigger birds come in and finish the job.”

I stared at him in horror.

“But you’ll be fine,” he added, beaming.

“I do remember, he continued, chuckling, “one audience member simply saying to a particular speaker in the Q&A, ‘that is the most jejune argument I’ve heard in quite some time.’’

So here’s the example: if someone said that to me, my instinct would be to nod and say, “Oh God. Oh God, you’re right. You’re so right. How did I not see this earlier? It’s just so jejune, isn’t it?”

And they I would go on to itemize all of the various ways in which my argument was jejune. Before long I would have retracted the entire argument.

But. I am not going to do that if someone says tomorrow that my argument is the most jejune they’ve heard in quite some time.

Oh, no.

I have a plan, see. But I have to give you a little background so that you’ll understand.

Often in the morning, when we’re lying dozily next to each other, before I get out of bed, the younger will say, “hang on, I want to follow the trail.” And then she’ll take her index finger and trace it all along the line of liberty that adorns my left upper arm from one end to the other. And then when, and only when, she gets to the end of the line, then she lets me get up.

So: here’s my plan. If somebody, tomorrow, says that my argument is just so jejune, or similar, I won’t say anything at all. No. I’ll just slowly and purposefully, like a magician, roll up my left sleeve. I will display my tattoo and trace it slowly with my right index finger. Then, with quiet dignity I will declare, “the line of liberty, sir, follows its own course.”

And then, just for added impact, I’ll add, “Zig-a-zig-ahhhhhhhhhh.”

Drop the mike.

Stride out into the cold Baltimore air.



[1] This will be a great example next year when I teach Adam Smith’s account of why we blush on another’s behalf even though they are not themselves embarrassed: “We blush for the impudence and rudeness of another, though he himself appears to have no sense of the impropriety of his own behaviour; because we cannot help feeling with what confusion we ourselves should be covered, had we behaved in so absurd a manner” (Smith, TMS)

[2] Rousseauvian style confession: in graduate school I once claimed to a fellow grad student to be related to Scary Spice. I said this as a joke, in the vein of it’s-such-a-small-country-we-really-do-all-know-each-other-there-ha-ha way, never imagining that he would believe me. But he replied, “Really?” in an I-want-to-believe-this-is-true way and, for reasons that are now unfathomable to me, instead of saying, “no, I was just kidding,” I went on to on to give a long and elaborate account of how her Dad was my Mum’s cousin. I do not know if he actually believed me, but, regardless, to this day I feel deeply ashamed for telling this gratuitous lie. I mean, what a sociopathic thing to do, right? In an odd coincidence, this same grad student to whom I lied is now an Associate Professor at the same institution that I work at. We have never run into each other. While the mature thing would be to go knock on his office door and apologize for my juvenile behavior, I still haven’t been able to bring myself to do so.

[3] Please please do not tell my Mum that I never brush my hair.


5 thoughts on “Day 100: Zig-a-zig-ahhhh

  1. Miss Honey says:

    I hope your talk will be followed by engaging and insult-free Q & A. But if not, your exit plan is a showstopper, so I think you are good either way. I also really want to know who thinks you are related to Scary Spice. Sadly, I never heard that whispered around as a rumor, but I probably was not talking to the right people!

  2. Susan says:

    Brilliant, once again.

    I have some doubts about your doctor’s question. Personally, I think a bit disheveled is not only endearing, but admirable.

    Sending good thoughts…and three cheers for the line of liberty. xoxo

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